Category Archives: Event

iPRES 2016

Last month, I attended the 13th International Conference on Digital Preservation, this year hosted in Bern, Switzerland. The four days of papers, panels, posters and workshops were an intensive and exciting opportunity to meet with colleagues working in digital preservation around the world, share ideas, and hear about innovative projects and approaches. The topics ranged widely from technical systems and practices, to quality and risk assessment, and stewardship and sustainability. What follows are just a couple of highlights from a really fascinating week.

Networking wall

The post-it note networking wall: What do you know? What do you want to know?

Net-based and digital art

As email, digital documents and social media replace traditional forms of communication, it is crucial to be able to preserve born-digital material and make it accessible. An area which I hadn’t previously considered was the realm of net-based art. Here, the internet is used as an artistic medium, which of course has implications (and complications) for digital preservation.

In her key-note speech, Sabine Himmelsbach from the House of Electronic Arts in Basel, introduced us to this exciting field, showing artwork such as Olia Lialina’s ‘Summer’, 2013, shown below.

Summer, by Olia Lialina

Screenshot of Summer, Olia Lialina, 2013. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxvHoXdC4Uk

The artwork features an animated loop of Lialina swinging from the browser bar. Each frame is hosted by a different website, and the playback therefore depends on your connection speed. This creative use of technology creates enormous challenges for preservation. Here, rather than preserving artefacts, it is the preservation of behaviours which is crucial, and these behaviours are extremely vulnerable to obsolescence.

Marc Lee’s ‘TV Bot’ is another net-based artwork, which is automated to broadcast current news stories with live TV streams, radio streams and webcam images from around the world. Reliant on technical infrastructure in this way, the shift from Real Player to Adobe Flash Player was one such development which prevented ‘TV Bot’ from functioning. The artist then not only worked on technical migration, but re-interpreted the artwork, modernising the look and feel, resulting in ‘TV Bot 2.0’ in 2010. This process soon happened again, this time including a twitter stream, in ‘TV Bot 3.0’, 2016. In this way, the artist is working against cultural, as well as technical obsolescence.

Marc Lee, 'TV Bot 2.0', 2010. Image from http://ceaac.org/en/artistes/marc-lee

Marc Lee, ‘TV Bot 2.0’, 2010. Image from http://ceaac.org/en/artistes/marc-lee

The heavy involvement from the artist in this case has helped preserve the artwork, but this process cannot be sustained indefinitely. Himmelsbach ended her speech by stressing the need for collaboration and dialogue, which emerged as a central theme of the conference.

A new approach to web archiving

Another highlight was the workshop on Webrecorder lead by Dragan Espenschied from Rhizome. He introduced their new tool which departs from the usual crawling method to capture web content ‘symmetrically’, which results in incredibly high-fidelity captures. The demonstration of how the tool can capture dynamic and interactive content sparked gasps of amazement from the group!

Webrecorder not only captures social media, embedded video and complex javascript (often tricky with current tools), but can actually capture the essence of an individual’s interaction with the web-content.

How it works: Webrecorder records all the content you interact with during the recording session. Users are then able to interact with the content themselves, but anything that was not viewed during the recording session will not be available to them.

Current web archiving strategies aren’t able to capture the personalised nature of web use. How to use this functionality is still a big question, as a web recording in this way would be personal to the web archivist: showing what they decided to explore, unless a systematic approach was designed by an institution. This itself would be very resource-intensive, and is arguably not where the potential of Webrecorder lies: the ability to capture dynamic content, such as net-based artworks. However, the possibility of preserving not only web content, but our interaction with it, is a very exciting development.iPRES 2016 balloon

iPRES 2016 was a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into projects happening around the world to further digital preservation. It showed me that often there are no clear answers to ‘which file format is best for that?’ or ‘how do I preserve this?’ and that seeking advice from others, and experimenting, is often the way forward. What was really clear from attending was that the strength and support of the community is the most valuable digital preservation tool available.

 

Event: Women in Science in the Archives, 8 September 2016

As part of the FitzGerald cataloguing project, we are organising an event around women in science in the archives, to take place on Thursday 8 September, at the Weston Library (Lecture Theatre) from 9.00am to 1.00 pm.

The half-day seminar will look at women’s engagement with science in the past through the Bodleian’s historical archives, trace the changing nature of their role, discuss the experiences of female scientists in the 21st century, and explore the challenges of preserving their archives in the future.

WiS image 10

Women in science, 1780-2016

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Web Archiving Micro-internship – Part 2

On 14 and 15 March eight Oxford University students took part in a web archiving micro-internship at the Weston Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. Working with the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive, they contributed to the curation of a special collection of websites on the UK European Referendum. This is the second of two guest blog posts on the micro-internship.

The most central aspect of modern life is now the proliferation of digital technology. Since the 1990s, it has become a central mode of communication which is often taken for granted. At the start of this micro-internship, we were introduced to the concept of the digital ‘black hole’, a term used to describe the irrevocable loss of this information. Unlike physical correspondence and materials–the letters, writs, and manuscripts of earlier centuries–so much of what we write is fragile and evanescent. To stem the loss of this digital history, we were shown how the Bodleian Libraries and other legal deposit libraries use domain crawls to capture online content at pre-determined intervals using the W3ACT tool. This then preserves a screen grab of the website on the Internet Archive, namely the waybackmachine, before the website is updated.

Web archiving micro-interns working in the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Weston Libary, March 2016.

Web archiving micro-interns working in the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Weston Libary, March 2016.

The right to a copy of electronic and other non-print publications, such as e-journals and CD-ROMs by legal deposit libraries only came into existence on 6th April 2013. This meant that libraries were able to create an archive of all websites with domains based in the United Kingdom. The recent ‘right to be forgotten’ law adopted by the EU is a signal of the fact that the legal status of digital archives is nevertheless becoming increasingly complicated, particularly when compiling archives of events receiving international commentary, like the upcoming EU referendum. Each of us focused on a different aspect of the EU referendum, reflecting our individual interests, ranging from national newspapers and student newspapers to the blogs of Scottish MSPs, Welsh AMs, and MEPs, and the blogs of solicitors and legal firms’ websites offering advice to businesses and refugees in the event of a ‘Brexit’. One of the trickier views to archive was that of British expats living abroad. In this situation, unless the site can be proven to be based in the UK, we would have to write to the owner of the domain to request permission to archive the website. In a situation where permission was given but the person expressing those views subsequently wished to erase this history under the ‘right to be forgotten’ law adopted by the EU, should the UK have voted to leave the EU, this would leave the archived material in a tricky legal position. We learned during the internship that this would most likely result in the relevant archived material being deleted. However, this is exactly what the archive was set up to prevent and so the tension between the right to privacy and freedom of information on a public platform presents considerable problems to the aim of web archives to be fully comprehensive, aggravated further by the omission of websites with pay walls.

After finding this material and ensuring it was covered by the legal deposit law, it was necessary to classify the site accurately, identifying the main language, and providing titles and descriptions. For newspaper articles, this was relatively straightforward, but for Welsh and Irish-language publications produced by political parties, languages which I am studying at Jesus college, this was more complicated as the only languages available to select from were German or English–a testament to the nascent stage of the web archive’s development. In addition, classifying material was very much up to our own individual discretion and the descriptions to our own style. To complicate things further, the order in which searched-for material should be presented raises further issues, which we discussed at the end of the micro-internship. Namely whether results should be arranged by ‘most popular’, by date of publication, or any other criterion. The discussions and practical experience offered by this internship gave us an opportunity to help address the legal and administrative challenges facing web archivists.

Daniel Taylor

Web Archiving Micro-internship – Part 1

On 14 and 15 March eight Oxford University students took part in a web archiving micro-internship at the Weston Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. Working with the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive, they contributed to the curation of a special collection of websites on the UK European Referendum. This is the first of two guest blog posts on the micro-internship.

During a micro-internship at the Bodleian’s legal deposit web archives, focusing on the EU referendum collection, we have had an occasion to reflect on the meaning of such an archive, and particularly on its potential for creating meaning.

Web archiving micro-interns on the roof of the Weston Library, March 2016.

Web archiving micro-interns on the roof of the Weston Library, March 2016.

A web archive’s potential document base is clearly much wider than a paper collection’s. No material criteria, such as donations and physical availability, play a defining factor in the content archived. The main restriction placed on this particular archive is that of legal permission, which allows only UK domains to be easily archived. Even so, the scope remains incredibly wide.

Therefore, archiving the web implies a deliberate narrowing of choices on the archivist’s side. Much is left to their discretion.

A lot of what we know of history is defined by the material that is preserved. It is difficult to learn about the working class or women in the past from original sources, as material by and about such people is conspicuously absent from our collections. A contemporary web archivist has the chance to select material that can most broadly represent society. This will make it impossible for future historians to ignore the history of many groups, and will enable research into a variety of thoughts and experiences.

This was reflected and magnified in the approaches that the group of interns took, which evidences the importance of having a range of different people cooperate on the gathering of knowledge. One woman, for example, concentrated on the representation of the Brexit referendum in media specific to certain ethnic and religious groups, such as Judaism. Another made sure to include the views of Scottish, Gaelic and Irish media and organisations, in order to avoid an England-only approach. One of the interns chose to gather information about the way the referendum is seen in small communities, enriching the archive with small local publications. On the first day, I concentrated on the views and representation of immigrants, whose lives will be strongly affected by the referendum. On the second day, I preserved information about women’s roles and views.

Such a wide range of approaches contributes to the broadening and deepening of historical studies. It also positively contributes to contemporary social science. This can happen in two main ways. Firstly, it places virtual documents in a setting that makes their analysis easier. It thus enables social scientists to observe internet trends throughout the years, and compare them to each other. For this purpose, a wide range of archived material is essential, and again the archivist has a role in creating the foundational understanding of British society..

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly (as the first function can be fulfilled by tools on the live web) they allow social scientists to track trends in academia. A web archive describes what subjects and focuses contemporary academia considers to be salient. It points out what we, as researchers, think is worth being saved from the internet black hole.

The defining potential of this is striking, and this internship allowed us to understand the social, political and historical role of archiving.

Zad El Bacha

Event: Exploring the UK Web, 11 December 2015

 

Wab Archives TalkExploring the UK Web:
An introduction to web archives as scholarly resources

11 December 2015
2.00pm – 4.00pm

Venue: Lecture Theatre, Weston Library

Speakers: Jason Webber, Prof Jane Winters, Dr Gareth Millward, Prof Ralph Schroeder

‘The Web’, in the 25 years of its existence, has become deeply ingrained in modern life: it is where we find information, communicate, research, share ideas, shop, get entertained, set and follow trends and, increasingly, live our social lives.
As much as we rely on traditional paper archives today to find out about the past, for anyone trying to understand life in the late 20th and early 21st century, archived websites will be an invaluable resource.

Join us and our expert panel for an afternoon of exploring the archives of the UK web space, focusing on their potential use for research and teaching. Short presentations will introduce the resources and tools available for web archives research in the UK, and the opportunities (and challenges) they come with in theory and practice: from web archives curation, preservation and research tool development at the British Library, to current research in the Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities (BUDDAH) Project and at the Oxford Internet Institute.
Afterwards there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion – your chance to ask everything you ever wanted to know about web archives and to contribute your thoughts and ideas to an emerging discipline.

Admission free. All welcome.
To secure a place, please complete our booking form via What’s on

Jason Webber is the Web Archiving Engagement and Liaison Manager at the British Library, working with the UK Web Archive and the Legal Deposit Web Archive.
Jane Winters is Professor of Digital History at the Institute of Historical Research, and Principal Investigator in the BUDDAH Project.
Gareth Millward is a Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the BUDDAH Project bursary holders.
Ralph Schroeder is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute.